John Reynolds hardly remembers a time in his life when he was not a civil rights activist. He started his lifelong career of activism alongside the greats like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy, all involved in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was 18 when he joined the Civil Rights movement, leading people into situations of danger where they could be beaten or killed. He tells his story movingly in his book The Fight for Freedom: A Memoir of My Years in the Civil Rights Movement. He talks about a time when black people were exploited and were considered little more than commodities. He knew someone had to shine a light on this blackened world and he said: Why not me?
He says in his book that he was driving to his home in Troy, Alabama, one day in 1965 when he noticed two people talking in the yard opposite. It was a young white man and an elderly black woman. What he noticed was the young man’s body language. The way he was talking to the woman showed a profound respect for her, which was atypical of the way he had seen whites talking to blacks. When the two people had finished their conversation, John hailed the white man and asked if he was a civil rights worker. The man said yes and proceeded to take John to the local headquarters of something called SCOPE (Summer Community Organization for Political Education), an effort the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had started throughout the South. The major thrust of the work consisted of getting black people registered to vote. Six people had come to Troy, Alabama, in response to Dr. King’s call. Hundreds of volunteers helped register thousands of people throughout the South. The SCOPE project was instrumental in getting the Voting Rights Act passed, demonstrating to the Johnson administration that blacks across the South hungered to become voters and full citizens.
In 2015, fifty years after the SCOPE project, the volunteers held a reunion. At this reunion, the decision was made to band together once again and use the experience and skills of these veteran civil rights workers to help facilitate change today. And so, in 2016, SCOPE50 was established and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Their efforts now are on trying to chronicle the stories of those who came to help, as those stories are part of the history of how the Civil Rights Movement evolved in the United States.
PBS has also touched South Carolina in this effort. There is a PBS documentary series running called We’ll Meet Again featuring situations where people who have worked together years ago find each other and relive some of their memories. The fifth installment of this series is called “Freedom Summer” and it focuses on people involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. One of the people is a young woman who came to South Carolina from California in 1965 as part of the SCOPE black registration effort. Her name is Sherie Labedis and she wrote about her experience in her book You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You. There is a watch party to be held at the Lake House on February 20th so people can see the program together. Refreshments and conversation will start at 7:30 pm (note time change from previous announcement); the show begins at 8 pm.
John’s efforts continue today as he visits schools and churches to carry the message of how important activism, particularly voting, is. His is the story of one more Seabrooker working hard to improve people’s lives.
-Barbara Burgess, Tidelines Staff Writer